Call Northside 777 (1948)
December 21, 2022 12:27 AM - Subscribe

Chicago reporter P.J. McNeal re-opens a decade-old murder case.

In 1932, Frank Wiecek (Richard Conte) is convicted of the murder of a Chicago policeman in a mob-connected speakeasy. Eleven years later, his mother, Tillie (Kasia Orzazewski), takes out a newspaper classified ad asking for information about the crime. Hard-bitten city editor Brian Kelly (Lee J. Cobb) assigns skeptical reporter P.J. McNeal (James Stewart) to investigate. The first studio feature ever shot on location in Chicago, the film is based on a true story.

Bosley Crowther: For "Northside" or "777" (that title is much too long) is a slick piece of modern melodrama in anybody's book. It combines a suspenseful mystery story with a vivid, realistic pictorial style, and it has some intriguing arcana in it on the gentlemen of the press. If some of its newspaper techniques are not entirely in line and if its climactic evidence is flimsy, blame that on the scriptwriters' awe. The Hollywood people are usually overwhelmed by the mightiness of the press.Not that the likelihood is farfetched that a practicing newspaper man should suddenly become extremely curious about an ancient and closed murder case.

Howard Pearson: To say that it is top entertainment doesn't quite tell the story. It is a new field for Stewart = the documentary story. And he does it with his usual finesse and power. But it is the superb manner in which Twentieth Century-Fox has translated one of the most sensational newspaper stories in years into suspense-packed screen drama that makes the picture outstanding.

"Call Northside 777" is drawn from events that are NOT fictional. It IS a true-life story - and the hard-hitting, realistic, on-the-spot technique which Director Henry Hathaway uses in its telling.

Mike Massie: With the sudden imposition of a time limit for gathering additional clues and locating missing persons of interest, even greater tension arises. Unfortunately, the unnecessary narrator chimes in after a considerable break, inadvertently pulling viewers out of the trance of the mystery, shattering the immersive illusion of moviemaking. It may intentionally carry a documentary feel, but it works against the riveting subject matter. It’s not enough to diminish the power of the conclusion, however, exposing the striking shortcomings of the judicial system of the time and the wonders of technology (even if some of the facts are distorted for better entertainment value). Interestingly, “Call Northside 777” is often categorized as a film noir, yet even with a few signature elements (men with guns, sleuthing, shadowy environments), it’s primarily a crime drama, missing the major components of a femme fatale, a protagonist caught up in dangerous dealings, money-motivated heists, or gat-brandishing gangsters.

posted by Carillon (3 comments total)
Overall pretty good. It definitely doesn't age well how credulous Stewart's character is towards the police. Trying to split the difference between an actual documentary and a dramatization also doesn't super help. I did like the warden's line about how everyone says they're innocent in prison, but that Frank is the only one they all believe is.
posted by Carillon at 12:32 AM on December 21, 2022

Call Northside 777 is one of those post-war message movies where they used hyperrealism and hyperdrama to create gritty real life on screen (along the lines Carillon mentions about: documentary and dramatization) . To be honest, I've never liked that formula for a movie. Maybe the post-war audience appreciated the change in pace from the usual Hollywood schlock. But to me, it's obvious the filmmakers are trying, which immediately makes the whole effort feel inauthentic and manipulative.
posted by Stuka at 8:47 AM on December 21, 2022

Good post about this movie on the Chicago History Today blog.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 12:34 PM on December 21, 2022

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